Einstein, Equilibrium & Construction Safety Risk Profiles

Is you Risk Profile really ever achieved?

It’s been some time since I approached the “Risk Assessment Continuum” articles.

I have had some time to reflect and observe construction in South Africa.

Now I am not entering the SACPCMP debate, however the Construction Regulations together with the SACPCMP guidelines for standard services and deliverables are definitely an ever changing field of study.

Einstein & Construction Safety Equilibrium

I tried to come up with some theory, yet failed miserably, however I remembered Einstein’s equation E = MC².

If E equaled the equilibrium of a safe working environment then management (M) of the particular construction project multiplied by the Contractors and effectiveness of its Safety personnel (), the project would meet its objectives of being built to specification, on time and within budget.

Any project would then need to be constantly as dynamic as possible in order to remain at this equilibrium.

Not focusing on the equation but on the areas required to be identified and specified in terms of the Construction Regulations requirements, namely the Risk Profile Identified and Risk Profile Actual, as the construction project progresses is of utmost importance and the topic of this article.

How to compromise a Risk Profile

The Risk Profile Identified is the one at the start of the construction project, it is the profile upon which the project begins, budgets are drawn up against, designs are made too, and schedule is fixed to etc.

The Risk Profile Actual are those decisions which either reduce those identified risks or those decisions taken that negatively affect the initial Risk Profile, thus increasing the risk to the construction project.

Example: The initial schedule has been determined as taking 700 working days, the schedule had been resourced and the baseline was in place. Management take a decision 2 months into the project that the facility is needed within 500 days, because orders have been placed. The new baseline is now set at 500 days, the same resourcing, the same facility is required, equilibrium has been altered significantly, and thus the Actual Risk Profile is way off the Identified (or Initial) Risk Profile for the project.

This construction project is now placed under extreme pressure, plans are made to meet the new schedule, new designs are sought, the budget may or may not be changed, each appointed contractor is trying to find ways to meet the new schedule dates, and the Baseline Risk Assessments that may have been submitted to the Department of Labour are now different, as are the specifications, and the Health & Safety Plan.

I speak in the true sense of Health & Safety Specifications, (not those that I see 99% of the time that are just a regurgitation of the Construction Regulations – never do I see the actual Health & Safety Specification of the design or Health & Safety Specification of the material, Etc.) being altered, the Construction Safety Equilibrium has now been compromised.

Equilibrium Lost

I have observed this shift in Risk Profile on many construction projects both locally and internationally and, I have come to the conclusion that it will always be a factor, almost a constant in mathematical terms. I have also witnessed that the simultaneous construction issues are almost as bad, and not addressed adequately, if at all.

Example: Civils normally are the base of all projects, yet I have seen many instances where civils for example have first done the base/foundation, then structural steel/mechanical have taken over, the civils guys work around them (Simultaneous Construction) yet no Risk Assessment interface is done.

Although the Construction Regulations alludes to it in terms of CR5(4), what is termed a SIMCON or Simultaneous Construction Risk Assessment, (in Oil And Gas Terms a SIMOPS), is never done. (When I introduced this on one of my jobs it was first frowned upon, now I get asked to help do them).

I have seen the risk continuum extend, change and be manipulated. One thing however is always for certain, the overall risk profile is always compromised,

risk profile
The Construction Regulations’ terms Risk Profile Actual & Risk Profile Identified indicates an important need for equilibrium.

I have yet to see one that has swung totally in favour of mitigation, or even where the Initial Risk Profile was ever achieved.

The above two examples clearly demonstrate that (M) management decisions (in this case I refer to the project director/manager and the construction manager) and () the contractors and the Health and Safety advice given / used / implemented, plus many other factors, result in a skewed statistic towards having an injury or incident.

If I put it another way, if we reduce the time (schedule alone) in which a project should be done, with the same number of resources, it impacts on; the working hours (increase them per day/week/month), redesign as quick as possible, which will change our purchasing strategies, quality and constructability plans, our construction plan, our contracts, our deliverables and standard services (if we talk in SACPCMP terms), our Risk Assessments and most probably our Health & Safety Specifications.

Lost equilibrium leads to a clash of objectives

It will definitely impact on our Health & Safety Plan and therefore its execution. Our Risk Profile Actual is completely different to the Initial Risk Profile – IT IS NOW THE TIME TO BE AWARE.

Now the challenge is for that Health and Safety practitioner to take this to management, the Project Director/ Manager and Construction Manager. It is possibly the most difficult task the Health & Safety professional will have.

It normally always starts with a clashing of the objectives – Production vs Health and Safety, and may end either with success or not.

I am sure that those reading this article have experienced this. You may have even used the Monte Carlo Simulation model or others to assess some of the project risks, but the fact still remains that it’s the workers in the field who are at risk while we fight for equilibrium.

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Shane Lishman

Occupational Health & Safety Specialist
Shane Lishman CMIOSH OSHCR SIIRSM EHRB IoD(UK) Saiosh COSHPROF has over 30 years experience in HSE system development, implementation and HSE project management.

15 thoughts on “Einstein, Equilibrium & Construction Safety Risk Profiles

  1. Hi Shane,
    Your point is well taken, A certain international project management company that I think we may have both worked for at some stage and which, for the sake of this discussion, we can call “Milled Grain” (since the name is often misspelled as such) had addressed this from a cost perspective many moons ago (before H&S was even an issue!).
    Scope changes had a multiplication factor applied to them which grew in magnitude the further into the project one got. So early changes went in at base rate and changes 75% of the way in might be costed at twice or even three times the value due to the disruptive impact they had on the project.

    So instead of butchering Einstein’s equation, can we perhaps go back to basics with the following suggestion:
    If Tm is the time at which the modification is made and To is the commencement time of the project, generally taken as zero, then the time into the project is (Tm-To) , or more simply, T
    Taking M as the magnitude of the change in Rand/Dollars and using a variable constant k, which is fixed for any one project but which can vary from project to project depending on duration, value, anticipated man-days etc.
    Then it can be said that:

    C = k MT²
    Where C represents the Chaos (or Cost or “Cook-up”) resulting from the Modification.

    Finally, since for any specific project k is not variable, then it can be taken as unity for that particular project and hence:

    C = MT² (Q.E.D.)

    1. Hi Richard
      The issue of scope changes, or more commonly scope creep and “gold plating” is any PM’s nightmare.The main reason is that clients do not want to fork out the funds to allow the PM to “manage” the project according to budget, as his/her presence on site is required more frequently. This allows for the poor administration of the “Scope Management Plan”. Integrated to this, comes the SHEQ plan, and the Risk Management plan, as for each change in Scope, so changes the risk to the project as a whole, and the H&S issues surrounding such changes. Add to that the Contractor Management Plan, and the snow-ball effect hits the H&S agent, as new contractors; previously not vetted may come on site. In the end, any change in scope has such a large impact on the project itself, that everything needs to be re-evaluated; a task that does not fall within the available time of the PM.

      1. Adding to that. It is easier to win a tender going in low and making money from VO’s than convincing a client to pay the PM to manage the project within budget, and time.

  2. Indeed, Rudi. And I omitted to say that I used T² (time squared) since the snowball grows exponentially, as you get further and further into the project

  3. A successful project
    Built to Specification
    Within Budget
    Within Schedule
    is normally the PM aim. Add in HSE and all of a sudden the PM starts to quiver, I have seen this on numerous projects. The current Construction Agent angle is seen as a problem to many. We need to sell the economics behind HSE, we are seen as a cost centre, and that is a fact. Our role as change agents in this regard is a uphill battle, but once won, little steps I have had success with, it will become a positive.

      1. Shane, I tend to agree with you on the PM quivering the moment HSE steps on board. However, if the client is properly informed of the involvement of HSE and the Agent is engaged in the Initial stages of the proect, everything can be properly planned for; Cost, Quality and Time.
        The reason why PM’s start throwing their toys are their own fault. As a PM is normally appointed as the Client’s Agent (Not the CHSA), they are the ones to inform the client to call in the HSE (CHSA) at the same time the PM is engaged.
        The fact of the matter is that the CHSA is called in “after” the budget and project program has been finalised and if you are lucky, just before it goes out on tender. In worst case scenarios (current practice) the CHSA is called in after the tender has been awarded. At this stage the cost, quality and time, as well as the contractors have been tied down in agreements. All of a sudden the CHSA rocks up with a stack of requirements that costs more than budgeted for and takes longer than planned. So throw your toys! How else?
        But….do not ever blame the CHSA!
        It is like me giving you a box of auto parts and asks you to build a car, even though I know all the parts in the box comes from a complete car. The CHSA cannot fix what the PM has messed up. Having been in both roles many times in the past on the same projects, it is easy to manage, but the challenges comes when the PM and the CHSA are two clashing personalities and have different approaches to what is deemed “adequate HSE management” .
        Here I must add that the PM is not the only person to blame for time and cost overruns due to HSE.
        I have experienced “file approvers” who nitpicks and argues over punctuation instead of validity of content, delaying kick-off with weeks at a time. In some cases up to 6 months. And I use the term “file approvers” to distinguish between practitioners with knowledge and those with chips on their shoulders aka the ALB or “amber light brigade”. As one ALB officer once told me “your HSE Plan tells me what you say you are going to do, not what you are doing”. Well we are doing x y and z, but we are not yet on site as you haven’t approved the file yet.
        The PM manages the contract, be it the JBCC, GCC or NEC3, and very few CHSA’s I have met or know, has seen these documents, let alone know the content. For some unknown reason, the PM does not think it necessary to share the relevant information having a direct effect on HSE time and budgets.
        So my learned colleagues, we are miles away, if not light-years, from where we need to be.

      2. Nail on the head Rudi! And have you ever wondered why the JBCC omits any significant reference to H&S, let alone making provision for H&S costs in the BOQ?

      3. Thank you for all the comments, this forum is one where we can learn. Looking at the contracts very little comes out of them HSE wise – except for a few lines, I have suggested to one Contracts Administrator to start look at a more detailed HSE Section.
        Using the 6 steps of construction, I have to agree that we come in luckily at the tender stage (CHSA), after the fact, and when budget is often fixed, then we are expected to operate with no / inadequate budget.
        The Planning phase of HSE IS SKEWED AND INADEQUATE AT THIS TIME. Intervening with new requirements places the contractors in a very difficult position, and the CHSA who takes this on will have a very hard time indeed.
        Yes I agree its going to take time, but we as professionals need to push it, it the only way that we can get it implemented.

        Cheers – off to Liberia .

      4. Richard; That is a fact. The JBCC Edition 6.1 March 2014 does not mention the words “safety” or “health” anywhere in the text, and the word “regulations” appears only three times; in the index on page 3, the heading of clause 2.0 on page 7 and in Clause 17.1.4 on page 18 dealing with Site instructions issued by the principal agent to the contractor.
        One would have assumed that the JBCC as proponents and supporters of the Construction Regulations 2014 upgrade, would have “updated” their contract to align, but sadly no.

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